It’s an award ceremony, but not as we know it. ‘Strangled Silence’ had made the shortlist, so I flew over to Edinburgh on Tuesday, and attended the ‘ceremony’, which started at about 10.30 on Wednesday morning in Falkirk Town Hall. It began with all of the shortlisted authors being interviewed by some of the students. Apart from myself there was:
- Jimmy Docherty for ‘The Ice Cream Con’
- Keith Gray for ‘Ostrich Boys’
- Sophie McKenzie for ‘Blood Ties’
- Linda Strachan for ‘Spider’
We were probed with searching questions, first for print publications, then for student radio – the unfortunate guy recording my interview pressed the wrong button on the recorder and we had to do it all again (don’t worry mate, it happens to the best of us). After the interviews, we were released and herded toward the theatre, walking on with big announcements as if we were coming out onto the ‘X Factor’ stage.
We were apparently supposed to wear some kind of red accessory, but I hadn’t been told, so I had to borrow a pair of enormous red plastic love-heart-shaped sunglasses to walk on with. I looked like a badly-prepared Elton John impersonator.
Then we just took our seats and watched for the first half of the event.
It started with an award for the best book review by one of the students. Then, each book was represented on stage by a school that did a short piece of drama, using a Powerpoint screen as a backdrop. Ten schools, five books, so there were two plays for each book.
A note to anyone using Powerpoint – particularly when you’re using it on gear that isn’t yours, or you’re linking your laptop to someone else’s projector. Don’t trust Powerpoint presentations. Don’t count on them to work when you most need them. Expect something to go wrong and have a Plan B. This system is not to be trusted. If seen on the street, do not approach it, as it may be violently unstable. Contact your local authorities and just walk away.
As you can imagine, there were varying degrees of success with these mini-plays, but overall, they were very ENTERTAINING. Sound like an awards ceremony to you? Yvonne Manning, the librarian who heads the organization (and loaned me the ridiculous glasses), made for a great MC, at one point pausing to model her very unorthodox pair of tights (though she maintained it wasn’t a ‘pair’ at all).
All the guests were taken to the cafe for lunch. The kids were fed too, and while we were gone, they did a quiz based on our books.
After lunch, all the authors sat at tables to sign books and autographs. It was at this point, we were struck by the full range of red accessorizing, including face-paint, daft hats, armbands, striped leggings and hair extensions. One girl wore a red tutu and glittery cowboy hat. When we came back to the theatre, there was a prize for the best red accessory (the tutu won). Then each author was introduced by one of the students, and we spoke for a few minutes each.
It was interesting, listening to all these writers speak, to note how well they spoke. It really is becoming an absolutely essential part of the job. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is open to debate.
That’s us all there in the picture. I’m at the back with Jimmy. The guy in the middle, embracing the two women, is Keith. You have to keep a close eye on those Nuthern Inglish lads. Sophie’s on the left and Linda’s on the right. After our talks, we all took questions together. Though I should point out there were two sofas, we didn’t have to huddle together the whole time.
After a couple more short speeches, Pat, a very friendly, enthusiastic man in town official’s attire (he looked like a cross between a court judge and Santa Claus) introduced the kids who announced the winner.
And the prize went to . . . hang on, having trouble with the envelope here . . . yes, it’s . . . oh! It’s Sophie McKenzie!
Congrats to Sophie, and thanks to the kids and all the welcoming and hard-working organizers for a very fresh and entertaining event. Long may it continue.
The following day found me in Inveralmond College in Livingston and then Armadale Academy. Some of the schools in Scotland are HUGE. I do have fears that Britain is beginning to take the retail park approach to education – I think some of them are only slightly smaller than Edinburgh Airport, and a few might be mistaken for Ikea stores. But I am pleased to say that I found the libraries in these two schools well stocked – and not just with computers – and their staff motivated. The general librarianish ethic remains intact. I had a good time at both, and thanks to all the staff there.
Then I came back to Ireland, where we have bugger all school libraries and where full-time school librarians are as rare as pandas – and not just through destruction of their environment. It’s good to be home.